James L. Solomon Jr., the first African American mathematics student at UofSC is honored with a commemorative plaque.
Being the first to break a barrier can elicit feelings of both excitement and discomfort. In a state plagued with segregation and a university tasked with breaking from history, the first African American students to enroll at the University of South Carolina took the first invigorating steps towards building a culture of diversity and inclusion on campus.
James L. Solomon Jr. was one of these students in 1963 who came for a quality education and by extension received the responsibility of integrating the University of South Carolina. Solomon was the first African American mathematics student in the College of Arts and Sciences. He had previously earned a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Morris College and a master’s in mathematics from Atlanta University.
Tracy Weldon, the College of Arts and Sciences' inaugural dean of diversity and inclusion, shares about the long-lasting impact of Solomon’s willingness to be the first African American mathematics student.
“It is because of the courage and determination of James Solomon, Henrie Monteith Treadwell and Robert Anderson that the University entered an important new era in its history on Sept. 11, 1963. As the first African Americans to enroll at UofSC since Reconstruction, these brave students put the university on a path toward racial integration, thus breaking down barriers for future generations of African American students and other students of color.”
Over Solomon’s lifetime, he found several other opportunities to break barriers and become “the first.” He was elected to the Sumter District 17 School Board and became the first elected official in Sumter County since Reconstruction. He held many more positions of public service, never letting the fear of being first hinder his commitment.
“Unfortunately, there are many corners of academia where a lack of diversity persists even today. As a result, many African American students, faculty, staff and administrators are all too familiar with what it means to be the 'the first' or 'the only' in their area. Such experiences can be alienating and discomforting and often have the effect of undermining the very diversity that we strive to achieve. It is our collective responsibility to challenge the barriers to racial integration in all aspects of our university. We are strengthened by our diversity,” Weldon says.
The College of Arts and Sciences continues to expand its diversity in pursuit of an inclusive and strong learning environment. Part of that mission is to recognize and honor those who took the first steps. On April 22 at 4:30 p.m., the College of Arts and Sciences will unveil a commemorative plaque honoring Solomon for his contributions to our university, state and nation.
Join the college for this celebration and commemoration in the Campus Room in the Capstone Building. Johnny Houston, co-founder of the National Association of Mathematicians, will provide a lecture followed by the unveiling of the commemorative plaque and a reception.